On the Road to Publication
(First published on FaceBook 09/29/2009)
When I first set out to write a novel and the long lean years drew on, the question I heard most frequently--and annoyingly, I might add--from friends and acquaintances was, "So, have you found a publisher yet?"
Oh, such harmless little words, and still I feel pangs of anxiety from the mere mention of them.
Therefore, I believe it is my right and proper duty--and also my good deed for the day--to clarify a few things, and in the process possibly spare future authors from the same spate of apoplectic fits that I suffered.
1. It must first be finished. If you're writing fiction, unless you're very famous or a previously published author--and by published I do mean published by a serious publishing house, not a vanity press or self-publisher--with at least decent book sales on a previous work, nobody will even look at your unfinished manuscript. To submit fiction, it must be complete. Not half-way finished. Not, "Well, see, here's the general idea and I've written three chapters" finished. Finished, finished. "The End" finished.
Which means, if your as-of-yet-unknown writer friend is still working on his or her book, the answer is no. No, he or she has not found a publisher yet and he or she would be daft to try. Yes, you're trying to be friendly, but please stop asking because it's crazy-making.
You might wonder why it's necessary to complete a work first. Isn't a good idea worth the time to listen, and doesn't the publisher stand to make billions off your brilliance?
Quite simply: no.
Ideas are free. Ideas are everywhere. And so are unfinished works of fiction.
How many people do you know who have at one point said they were planning to write a book? How many have actually started inking that idea into reality? Perhaps you even have a friend, or know a friend of a friend who has been working on putting into writing a unique, creative and amazing idea for a few years now. Of those, how many people do you know who've actually completed what they set out to write?
That's why a work of fiction has to be finished before anyone will look at it.
* A little side note on the subject of ideas: Telling your author friend that you have a great idea for a book and that if he/she will write it, you'll split the money when it sells is about as logical as telling a house builder that you have a great idea for a house and if he/she will build it, you'll split the money when it sells.
2. Authors don't find publishers, agents find publishers. With very few exceptions, publishers do not accept un-agented manuscripts. This means that your writer friend can try all he or she wants to find a publisher but it's probably not going to do any good.
To have a publisher take a look at your work, it must, for the most part, be submitted through an agent. Why? Is it because people in the publishing industry are lazy, or perhaps because there's some vast agent-conspiracy to corner the publishing market?
Surprising as it may be, publishers insist upon agented manuscripts because they are busy. They have real jobs and work tight deadlines which don't include reading manuscripts. They don't get paid to read the unsold works which come their way, they get paid to bring to market books they have already purchased. Which means that they do much of their manuscript reading on their own time and don't have time to read yours unless it's really, really, really good.
The agent, therefore, is the screening process; the guard at the gate. The agent doesn't get paid unless he or she can sell your book, and he or she won't agree to represent what can't be sold.
With only a fraction of the people who set out to write a book actually completing one, it almost boggles the mind to realize that the hundreds of emails a week the average agent receives from authors asking to be represented.
As you might imagine, with such inundation it's not easy for a first-time author to stand from the masses and secure representation. However, it is a tedious and time-consuming rite of passage that must, almost without exception, be endured on the road to publication.
Agent rejections come aplenty, and no matter how nicely written, they can be devastating. Even though you're now smart enough to avoid asking the fledgling author if he/she has found a publisher, you might also want to tread lightly when inquiring about the agent search. If your friend gets representation, you'll know. Trust me, you'll know.